The most charming surprise at the 2012 New England Underground Film Festival was this short drama, directed by an extremely talented 13-year-old Connecticut filmmaker named Daniel Kuriakose.
“Checkmate” focuses on a pair of young orphans who live on the streets and scratch out an existence as pickpockets. The younger of the two, Joseph (Aaron Baxter, who co-wrote and co-edited the film), is plagued by guilt over his petty crimes. The older boy, Albert (Caleb Thomas), is more adjusted to his predicament. Joseph seeks to find a purpose in his directionless life by obtaining missing pieces that would fill Albert’s sole possession, a chess set given to him by his late father. However, the boys fall afoul of a local criminal gang, which leads to both tragedy and an unexpected redemption.
The joy of “Checkmate” is rooted by the sincerity and intelligence it displays when addressing profound issues of faith, friendship, isolation and forgiveness. Admittedly, this is rough terrain for adults to navigate, yet Kuriakose and his youthful ensemble take on these difficult subjects with a remarkable maturity. Even better, the film is not the least bit predictable, and some of its surprises – particularly when Joseph is confronted by a skeptical priest in an empty church – are remarkable.
Of course, “Checkmate” is a student film and there are a couple of rough blips that one might anticipate in a production of this genre. But, on the whole, the production quality is impressive and the film never wears out its welcome. If the depth and temperament of “Checkmate” is any indication, Kuriakose has a great filmmaking future ahead of him. And remember, folks, you heard about him here first!